Essay

The Imperative Mood

We’re having dinner with friends. She says to me, “Those potatoes look delicious. Would you like to pass them to me?” and I smile.

We’re in the car. I’m driving while she navigates. She says, “You want to take the next left,” and I feel proud of her.

She’s giving instructions for a party game. As each player’s turn comes up she says something like “Draw two cards” or “Move one place to the left.” When she gets to me she pauses almost imperceptibly before saying “The next thing to do is play any card and discard another.” No one else notices the difference, but I do, and what I notice turns me on.

In grammar, “mood” refers to how we signal our attitude about what we’re saying. Some languages have loads of different moods, but English only uses three. There’s the Indicative Mood, which is when you’re describing or inquiring about the world as it is (“Rain is pouring in the open window.”). There’s the Subjunctive Mood for talking about hypotheticals, wishes or doubts (“It sure would be nice if someone closed the window before the couch got soaked.”). And there’s the Imperative Mood, which is for making requests and commands (“Close the damn window!”).

This girl of mine is forbidden from ever speaking to me in the imperative. She is not permitted to say, “Pass the potatoes.” Even, “Please pass the potatoes,” however polite, is still off limits.

Lots of times people speak in the imperative mood without actually meaning to make demands. When you’re giving navigation and you say “Turn left at the next intersection” everyone understands that you’re providing useful information, not being bossy. Doesn’t matter, though: her orders are strict. Right down at the grammatical level she may talk to me about how things are; and she may talk to me about what she imagines, wishes or fears; but she may never tell me what to do.

Maybe grammar pedantry isn’t the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of really hot D/s, but this has become one of my favorite, sexiest standing orders. Let me tell you why.

The heart of what I love about this rule is that it makes my girl think every time she talks to me. Excluding an entire mood from your conversation isn’t trivial. Even without intending to give orders to her owner, it’s awfully easy for a, “Look at this!” or a, “Have a nice time.” or a, “Don’t worry.” to slip off of an incautious tongue. Speech protocols like always calling someone “Sir” or referring to yourself as “this one” are relatively straightforward, and that means they can more easily fade into meaningless, rote habit. Having to carefully avoid the imperative makes my girl think hard about her words every single time she opens her mouth to speak to me. Speaking to her owner can never be trivial.

And what she’s thinking about, when she’s being made to think, is that I tell her what to do and never, ever the other way around. Sure: the official rule is only grammatical, and there are plenty of ways to tell someone what to do without using the imperative. The right tone of voice can turn “That ice cream sure looks tasty!” into a perfectly well understood order to hand over your ice cream. But having to always think about it on that grammatical level is a reminder to my girl to also think about it on the deeper level of meaning. As she’s composing her words she has the opportunity to think “Am I trying to tell my owner what to do?” and to rearrange not just her words but also her thoughts to come from a place of providing me with information and leaving the decision up to me. Transforming “Please loosen the rope on my left ankle.” into “The rope around my left ankle is really tight and my foot is falling asleep.” is a tool that helps her to sink deeper into the place where the comfort of her ankle is up to me and not to her.

Forbidding the imperative also has a deliciously intimate subtlety. Wearing a collar or calling somebody “Lord” all the time can kind of stand out. Sometimes standing out can be hot, of course; having a partner stand clearly and proudly submissive before the eyes of others always lights up my heart. Sometimes, though, it’s a delight to share a little secret right under everybody else’s noses. I’ve loved seeing my girl practice and develop her ability to hold a perfectly natural, flowing conversation that simply never includes the imperative.

“Let me see!” becomes “I’d like to see!”

“Excuse me.” becomes “I beg your pardon.”

“Let’s go!” becomes “Are you ready to go?”

Finally, the effect of that shift in her patterns of speech is an aesthetically appealing one. There’s a relaxing, elegant quality to conversation with someone–especially a submissive someone–who scrupulously avoids saying anything that sounds like an order. Subconsciously, perhaps, it comes across as undemanding and respectful. If you’re looking for a new habit to train into a partner, I can highly recommend it.